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THE CHASE is the novel that completes the pair, published by Endeavour Press and entitled Spying for Napoleon. Early in 1815, Sophia Hamilton becomes involved with two very different men: a renegade French Chasseur and an Irish cavalry officer. One of them is ready to betray English military secrets to Bonaparte. Which one can she trust? Sophia does not find out until the Battle of Waterloo.
SOPHIA HAMILTON: a distinctive heroine
The wide genre of historical fiction includes, amongst many others, two very popular types of novel, historical adventure and historical romance. The Chase partakes of both, because it deals with both war and love. It takes place within the three suspenseful months between 1 March 1815 and the Battle of Waterloo, and the adventure is shaped not from wallpaper history but from real events. As for the love story, Lady Sophia Hamilton differs greatly from the standard romantic heroine, who tends to be wilful, skilled in seduction and very conveniently bereft of parents or children.
I made Sophia different in order to be true to a major aspect of her character that dictated the writing of The Chase: Sophia hates war, not merely because her beloved husband Andrew was killed in the Peninsular War, but because of the eternal tragedy of seeing tens of thousands of young men sent to their deaths on the whim of the European powers. Not being wilful, however, she rarely expresses her thoughts and feelings, and is afraid she'll never change the course of destiny -- though she tries. Meanwhile she looks at her little boy in fear of what his future may hold, because this is an Englishwoman who has never experienced peace in her lifetime. What's more, her father is a naval commander, and the two men with whom she becomes involved are both in the military. One of them, in fact, is a spy for France. But she does not find out which of them is her deadliest enemy until the Battle of Waterloo.
This is a book that both men and women readers have enjoyed. I like to think this may be partly to do with the thrill of wartime action and also to do with the love story, as rivalry builds up between two strong men, both of whom are determined to change Sophia's life, for better or for worse.
SOME REVIEW COMMENTS
Harriet Klausner, Amazon review
"Cheryl Sawyer writes a tense historical intrigue starring a novel hero and the brave woman he protects with his life."
American Library Association, Booklist
"Sawyer's historical will have readers enthralled with its complex characters, intricate plot, and richly detailed setting."
"Three-dimensional characters, deeply emotional storyline and rich historical detail."
MaryGrace Meloche, Amazon review
"If instructive history is your forte, then you will likely enjoy Sawyer's sweeping historical work ... it is intense."
Fresh Fiction Journal
"I'm on the side of well-researched historical story telling ... the characters' stories are sublime."
All About Romance
"THE CHASE also features the best villain of any novel I've read in a couple years at least. I just adored him ... This a big, juicy, complex novel."
On the first day of March 1815, a short man wearing the green uniform of a French colonel of grenadiers came ashore on the Mediterranean coast within striking distance of Cannes. He was setting foot in France for the first time in ten months and no ally was there to greet him, but he knew his path. The Emperor of Elba had escaped, and with nightmare rapidity loyalties across Europe were about to shift and crumble, while hundreds of thousands of private lives were about to be changed forever. He would begin with France: I shall conquer this kingdom.
IN THE EARLY afternoon of the same day, two gentlewomen were riding under the trees of Hyde Park, where the late winter sun threw dappled light onto the crush of vehicles beneath and painted the parasols of the ladies on the Mayfair Walk with flecks of brilliance.
The bright-haired rider, wearing a toque with a single ostrich plume, rode a showy strawberry roan, but it was the dark horsewoman who caught the eye. Mounted on a hunter that was the midnight color of her own glossy hair, she had a dramatic beauty that drew glances, yet as she and her friend threaded their way amongst the carriages her face wore a remote expression, as though to warn onlookers away. This might be considered strange in a lady who had just returned from abroad and would presumably be eager to seek out her London acquaintance, but Lady Sophia Hamilton was driven more by her feelings than by convention. She always leaned first toward those closest to her, and the pleasure she felt in the ride through Hyde Park had everything to do with the reunion with her friend and nothing to do with the picture they made together. In fact, her secret wish was not to be noticed at all.
If Mary Ellwood had had her way, they would have paused to talk to people they knew. But Sophia preferred to keep on the move. She was at home in England, but not in London; high society made her feel friendless.
Catching up with her at the edge of the thoroughfare, Mary leaned over and said, "Don't look round, he's far too intent but someone has been following your progress most avidly. Under the elm, on a big gray."
Sophia drew a breath in painful suspense. "Do I know him?" she said, without altering her gaze.
"Let me give you a portrait. One face, tanned; two eyes, with thick lashes; smooth black hair. In short, as near to a gypsy as he can look without losing the air of a gentleman."
Sophia felt a mixture of relief and shame. It was absurd to think of pursuit in this predictable milieu. "I don't know him."
"As you please," Mary said. They passed at a trot over a patch of grass to another less crowded alley. "What would you say instead," she continued, "to full red lips, a bibulous eye‹two on his worst evenings‹and the rosiest cheeks in England?"
Sophia raised her eyebrows and gave an appreciative chuckle. "I should begin with, "Your Highness'."
Mary laughed. "Ellwood and I are invited for tomorrow, after supper. We may safely present you. The party is not intimate enough for us to be an intrusion, nor large enough to mask the éclat of your entrance. You could not have chosen better."
Sophia said in her low, melodious voice, "Mary, I have not chosen. Tomorrow I go down to Clifton."
Her friend gave the rapid shake of the head that was her way of dismissing irrelevance. "Clifton has waited nineteen months for you; another few days will hardly signify." She looked at Sophia keenly. "You told me you wanted to meet the Prince Regent, for what purpose I can only guess, and I have just offered you an opening. Take it. Attend with us tomorrow evening. My own importance to him is nothing beside Ellwood's and his is pitiful beside that of the close confidants; I may never be able to give you such a chance again."
"It is good of you, but you rank my powers rather too high."
Mary ignored the sardonic note. "Not at all. Prinny just now is in the most desperate straits for agreeable company, quite surrounded by the arid and the frivolous. Your every look, your every word will be like a refreshing stream in the desert. In one evening you will captivate him. By the week's end he will love you. If you have a scheme, personal or political, you may broach it then."
Sophia gave her a smile that to another woman would have spelt disdain. "There would be no point in my wooing the favors of the Prince Regent."
Mary shook her head again. "This will be a seduction of no common kind. And I would far rather see you raising his spirits than burying yourself at Clifton." Then there was a stricken pause. "My dear, forgive me. How appallingly I choose my words."
Sophia's gaze remained steady, but Mary saw a darker shadow appear in her eyes, like the effect of a cloud passing swiftly over deep waters. Sophia did not reply.
They reached the end of the alley and turned to ride back toward the Walk. The horses wheeled gracefully, flourishing their tails. Glancing sideways, Mary noticed Sophia's supple, statuesque figure and her smooth skin, flawless despite the months she had just spent at sea.
" I understand how you feel. The memories. Dear Andrew. Your duties to the estate. You are forcing yourself to go back. Surely it would do no harm to take a little longer, prepare yourself? Stay with us another day or two at least, and allow London to see something of you before you go into retreat."
"You are very kind." The tone was even, but there was a warmth in Sophia's answering look that made Mary smile at once in triumph.
"You will find a vast deal to amuse you. I'm sure you will notice how the peace has brightened our existence now that Bonaparte is in exile and America has been given the right-about-turn."
"Can we ever depend on the French desiring peace?"
Mary was taken aback but said lightly, "You recommend their being cast into outer darkness with their leader?"
Sophia turned and the afternoon light caught the contour of her cheek like a pale reflection on creamy marble. Her eyes were half hidden by her thick black lashes, so that Mary could not read their expression; but she did not miss the vibration in the voice.
"What do I think of the French? I hate them from my soul. They killed my husband."
NONE OF THE PEOPLE in the ship of the line that slipped past Greenwich on the same afternoon would have posed any argument to the peace, for they were about to touch England after years of duty abroad‹and every man of them, apart from a small contingent of the Chasseurs Britanniques, was coming home. As they drew level with the stately buildings of the Hospital and Queen¹s House on the north bank of the Thames, the order was given to stand to, and a longboat could be seen gliding across the river toward them, the oarsmen propelling it with the precision that spoke to the seamen of undemanding duties ashore and the bounteous city beyond.
"Seems you'll be turned on shore before us," the first mate remarked to one of the Chasseurs, who was standing by the rail. There was no resentment in the remark; it was a rough farewell to a soldier who had earned a certain admiration from the crew during their Atlantic crossing.
The Chasseur, his eyes fixed on the longboat, nodded but did not turn or reply, and after a second the mate moved off. The Frenchman was a mysterious mixture of a man; sometimes frank, engaging and ready to talk the night watch through, then next morning silent and cold as a big gun before action. Yet the men had been drawn to him. Tall, with thick, amber-colored hair bleached into fairness by the summer sun of last year's campaign, he stood out, especially amongst the other Chasseurs. Yet the impact he had in a group owed less to his wide-shouldered figure than to something more essential about his physical presence; in a good mood, he was alert and ready to interact in any company, almost aggressively at ease in whatever surroundings. He noticed and greeted everyone each time he chanced upon a group below decks, a French habit that had an enlivening effect. True, at this moment he looked indisposed for chat, but when one of the midshipmen came to his side he turned at once to the boy, with the half-smile he gave when he was preoccupied, so that one corner of his well-shaped mouth slanted downward, forming an expression that was ironical though not unkind.
The lad remarked shyly, "You'll not be wearing that uniform for much longer now, sir."
The man's smile gained a hint of self-mockery. He was far from entitled to the sir, since he was a private, and during his time in the Chasseurs Britanniques had been punished, detained and even sentenced to a tour of duty in a British penal colony for his refusal to accept any other rank. The boy, however, was addressing him as he would any master at arms, because this was the unofficial role that Jacques Decernay always ended up fulfilling, wherever he found himself.
"It's falling off me like a snake skin." Decernay looked down his nose at the red coatee with sky-blue cuffs and frayed white lace that was pulling away in places from its stitching. The pantaloons were patched and discolored and the wings of the worn coatee, though they still served to emphasize the straight line of the Chasseur¹s shoulders, were edged in a dirty gray instead of white. The only impeccable items were the pewter buttons on his breast‹all complete, and as shiny as new shillings, though no one had ever noticed the soldier polishing them. Seeing the boy's eye follow his own rueful inspection, he gave a quick laugh and brought up one large hand to wrench the top button off the open neck of the jacket, then hold it out.
"A souvenir, of a time never to be repeated, Dieu merci."
The boy took it and blushed crimson. In his eyes was the wish to give something in exchange, but he was almost as destitute of personal possessions as the Chasseur himself. The other gripped the boys shoulder with his long fingers, turning him shoreward and then letting go." In return, you may describe Greenwich to me. What is the edifice with the domes?"
"The Hospital. You haven't been here before?" The man beside him shrugged. "Nor London?"
The boy quickly named the other buildings. Meanwhile the longboat had almost reached the ship; just as the ladder was let down, the midshipman plucked up courage to say, "Why come all the way here? Why not Lymington, with the rest?
"Mon brave , London is just a little nearer to France."
The boy got no more out of him, for the order came for the Chasseurs to present arms before the captain of marines.
Neither the ship's officers on the quarterdeck nor the sailors before the mast failed to register the uniqueness of the sight as the Chasseurs Britanniques formed a line in front of the corps of marines drawn up in the waist of the ship. For they were the last of their kind: four soldiers of a regiment that had been mainly recruited in Portugal, had served with Wellington's army in Spain, been shipped to other posts after victory in the Peninsula, then employed‹with mixed results‹as marines against the Americans, and had finally disgraced itself at Hampton, Virginia, the year before. The Chasseurs had been disbanded, some officers and men being paid off at Halifax in Nova Scotia, the rest at the Hampshire port of Lymington; now only these four men remained, still clad in their own regimentals, though officially they belonged to the corps of marines who had accompanied them to England.
Discharge awaited them the day after they stepped ashore, yet there was pride in the precision with which they presented arms for the last time. Their uniforms were shabby but their shining weapons spoke of dedicated attention during the weeks of drill and practice at sea. The wood of the rifles gleamed in the weak sunshine, and so did the black, brass-tipped scabbards of the bayonet swords, which reached to below the knee. Contrary to their shipboard custom, the Chasseurs wore their shakos at the regulation angle, and a gentle shore breeze ruffled the green plume fixed at the center of each, above the gilt plate in the shape of a bugle horn.
The inspection over, the soldiers shouldered their arms and gave a farewell salute, which was acknowledged by the captain of marines and, more distantly, by the ship's commander. Then they were detailed to depart. Jacques Decernay was the last to lower himself over the side into the waiting boat, and before his head dipped below the gunwale of the man-of-war he threw a glance around the vessel. Suddenly a grin spread across his tanned face, and there was a warmth and a rakish sort of mischief in it that drew every one of the watchers. There was a spontaneous outburst of voices; sailors shouted their farewells, and the marines nearest the Chasseur wished him luck. Then without a word he backed down out of sight.
All the way across to the quay, Jacques had a haunting wish that he had followed the instinct to load his rifle. Which was absurd, for England was not a country in which instinct would be of the slightest use to him. He was also aware of his silent companions. He could feel in his sinews how everything was about to change, how they were about to lose one another; not because of British orders this time, but because they were to be given their freedom‹which they had no idea what to do with, and which would force them apart. Already, as the dripping oars moved beside them, sleek and rhythmical, each man was planning a subtle betrayal.
There was a welcoming party on the quay, more marines. He would have preferred fellow soldiers, light infantry. Absurd again -- he and the lads had no fellow soldiers.
They set foot on a flight of shallow stone stairs, with the lobster-backs in a double rank not far from the top‹smart looking, well fed, holding rifles with fixed bayonets. Striding upward two steps at a time, Jacques slipped the strap of his own rifle over his shoulder. His gear was in his knapsack, so both hands were free. For nothing, he told himself, but it did not stop a shiver of wariness that made the hairs on the back of his neck stir under his collar as he paused with the others at the top of the stairs.
The quay was wide, the buildings that lined it imposing, with long stone avenues between. There were other figures in the middle distance, all in naval uniform, including a commander standing under a portico to the far left, whom he recognized, with a darting inward shock.
As Jacques approached he gave the marines a frank stare, but their wooden expressions did not change. He had forgotten; on such occasions English curiosity was a covert affair, almost shameful. Perhaps they thought they knew enough about him in advance. He felt disoriented.
The marines' officer said something and Jacques saluted with the others while quickly scanning the environs. The nearest person was a groom leading a chestnut horse slowly away down the quay. A beauty and, by her fine shape, a filly. Slim, dainty legs that spoke of swiftness and dexterity, though she was out of condition, her head hanging low as she walked. Her floating tail shimmered gold in the afternoon light.
He turned back to the officer, who had just read out three names from the list in his hand. Jacques' companions stood a few yards away at the head of the column, flanked by a couple of lieutenants. The marines were at attention, rifles resting on their shoulders, topped by a frieze of bayonets. As his name was called, Jacques hitched his right shoulder so his own rifle hung straight at his back. Then stiffened.
"Jacques Decernay. I arrest you in the name of Our Sovereign Majesty King George the Third. You will be conveyed to barracks and held there in custody until court martial."
"Quoi?" Jacques's roar engulfed the officer's voice, which was high, though firm enough. He felt hot blood rise to his forehead, and had to struggle to summon his English. "On what charge?"
In two strides he had him by the throat. "Liar. You say my name, I am here. Who is this man who deserts? Not me!"
The captain went pink, the list fluttered from his hand, the line of bayonets behind him rippled." I have my orders. I advise you to come quietly."
Jacques, snarling, just managed to prevent himself from further violence, and stepped back suddenly so that the captain staggered. The weapons moved with precision, forming a semicircle of bright spokes with Jacques' chest at the fulcrum.
The captain swore. "Hold your fire! Dickson, Malahide, arrest him."
Jacques swung his rifle forward, gripped the barrel. There was no time to debate this with himself, instinct would have to serve after all. He beat down on an angle to smash three weapons away, then hooked the butt up and across to connect with the jaw of the man on the outside. He took two quick steps back, his eye on the rest of them, his right hand on the hilt of his sword bayonet and his empty rifle now balanced in his left hand.
He risked a swift glance behind. The filly flicked her tail, still tantalizingly close. His sword bayonet flew from the scabbard.
They were all shouting now, including the lads, though he could not see them or the captain for scarlet coats.
A thrust from the nearest bayonet, which he parried with his blade, slipping out of range. If he ran they would shoot him down; he must get nearer to his one chance of a way out, cover himself as he went. He diverted two of their points at once, the concussions jarring his wrist, then beat down a third with a flash and a whine of steel. And a jab to the man's throat with the rifle butt, which they seemed to have forgotten.
He slid back three yards, four, in a hail of light from the blades, his hobnailed boots rasping sparks from the paving, the sound of his own breath whistling in his ears. He would have sworn at them, but rage choked him like a band across his throat.
A bayonet sliced through the strap at one shoulder and the knapsack swung round to encumber his sword arm; fending off a thrust with the rifle barrel he whipped the knapsack free and then flung it in the face of an attacker who was trying to circle to his rear. He could feel them on the other side, which necessitated a windmill spin with both weapons that held them off once, twice, then allowed him a lightning dart through the smallest of gaps.
His shoulder was on fire from the stab but his sword arm was intact. He parried once more, dropping to one knee and using both weapons like a crucifix, then twisting to disarm. Not quite fast enough, two marines outflanked him, shouting, and he heard the officer's voice again, higher still with panic.
"One more move and we fire! Men, take aim!"
Dead end. In the sudden, thick silence he lowered his hands. He looked at the ground, cursing, seeing meanwhile out of the corners of his eyes the arc of avid faces, the silver spikes of the rifles.
He laid his weapons on the cold stone. A parting of old friends.
He raised his head, seeking the marine captain's youthful face. But there was an observer, beyond the scarlet coats, a tall man in naval uniform. Commodore Hamilton; the father of the woman Jacques had come to England to seek.
The commodore had a hooked nose and eyes of a piercing, Arctic blue, and he surveyed the scene before him with austere surprise. The last time they had seen each other had been in New South Wales, on the other side of the world, and he could never have expected to find the Frenchman in England, much less at bay before marines.
"Decernay! I'm sorry to see this."
Jacques sat back on his haunches, tore the shako from his head and smashed it to the ground beside him.
The commodore turned to the captain. "What is going on?"
"This man is under arrest, sir. For desertion. He will also face charges for resisting arrest."
Jacques closed his eyes. Resistance. What other choice was there; what else had he done for so long now, but resist? He opened his eyes again and encountered the alert gaze of the commodore. On a shuddering wave of hostility he said, "What do you know of this?"
"Nothing. But rest assured, I intend to find out."
The Chasseurs Britanniques—Mongrels, Miscreants, or the first Free French?
As part of my research for The Chase I learned about that unique group of fighting men, the Chasseurs Britanniques. I've described their appearance in the novel, and for those interested in their uniform I suggest looking at Émigré and Foreign Troops in British Service 1803-15, René Chartrand and Patrice Courcelle, Osprey, 2000. Below is a little background, in the form of an article I wrote in 2005 for the British reenactment magazine, Skirmish.
Formed from the rump of the French royalist Armée de Condé in 1801, the Chasseurs Britanniques had a chequered history that is best known today because of the part the Chasseurs played in the Peninsular War. Their record has been little studied by historians and was brushed over by contemporaries, one of whom, Colonel Harry Smith, left us the famous comment: ‘that mongrel regiment'. Was it their ambiguous beginnings that marked the Chasseurs Britanniques as suspect, or did the British to some extent make scapegoats of these renegade Frenchmen within their forces?
In 1800 the forces of the Armée de Condé, which had been serving with the Russians, received orders to join the British. They were sidelined in the ensuing battles against Napoleon, and after the defeat of the Austrians at Hohenlinden were ordered to hand over their horses, disband, and prepare to serve Britain in the Mediterranean (destinations Italy and Egypt). Many, particularly the dragoons, found this humiliating and promptly rejoined the French under Bonaparte—the first ‘desertion' from the new corps. Hundreds more requested dismissal, and the remainder only, some 600, were formed into the Chasseurs Britanniques, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Charles le Forestier. In 1803 they were posted to the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands, where they were reinforced by émigré officers and units. Their character and philosophy at the time was monarchist and reactionary: their aim was the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and the restoration of the Bourbons to the French throne. Their officers were mainly emigrés and the sons of emigrés, and under their leadership in Egypt the Chasseurs earned the commendation of General Fox, who remarked on their ‘unimpeachable fidelity' during the campaign of 1807.
In the autumn of 1810 the Chasseurs, now twelve companies and almost 2,000 men—by no means all French by this time—were ordered from Sicily to the Peninsula, where as part of the 7th Division they saw the war through, their ranks swelled from time to time by captured French who preferred service with the British to dismal months or years as prisoners of war. On balance their conduct was creditable, especially at Fuentes de Oñoro (1811), Vitoria and Sorauren (1813), but suspicion dogged them—Wellington gave standing orders that they were never to be entrusted with the outposts, a clear caution against turncoats—and there were notorious lapses in discipline, such as the incident at Badajoz where the Chasseurs, charged with bringing up ladders to scale the walls, threw them down and fled, for which the culprits were summarily executed. When Peninsula veterans were thrown into the War of 1812 against the United States of America, the Chasseurs went with them; they lasted until another breach of discipline, the pillage and rapine at Hampton, Virginia, led to their disbandment in 1814. Who were the Chasseurs, and how did they view their role, these Frenchmen who volunteered to kill their own countrymen on behalf of the British? Were they loyal defenders of true French honour, or cynical mercenaries? In my novel The Chase I've explored this issue through the story of Jacques Decernay, himself a Chasseur. During his court-martial in England in March 1815, he has this to say:
‘It has been called a mongrel regiment—if that phrase means a mixture of men and of principles, then it could not be more accurate. Nearly all our officers were émigrés, from families who came to England last century, because of the Revolution. They were nobly born, trained to lead; I can swear to you, gentlemen, that when I fought under those commanders I saw a loyalty to king and country that was deeper, more enduring, than that of the bravest Englishman in the field. Because they were fighting, and would not cease to fight, to rescue our country from the usurper.
'Alongside our émigré leaders were republicans; men who had fought for liberty in France, who helped to set up constitutional government. These man believed in just and equal laws and they were ready to sacrifice their lives to French independence. They fought for their country's liberty, but they could not prevent it from being overthrown from within by the emperor. They continued to serve, they stayed loyal to France, only to find themselves in the vanguard of the greatest despot of our time. You know the mighty deeds of the Grande Armée; those who rode with Bonaparte left death and devastation behind them across Europe. And meanwhile at home, in France, younger and still younger citizens were being fed into the deadly machine of Empire.'
'And the rest of the Chasseurs? To be sure, there were soldiers of fortune in our ranks, miscreants, outcasts, men brought low by accident or poverty or injustice. Mongrels, yes; men with nothing to lose. But there is one factor that bound us all together and gave us strength. For many years, gentlemen, the Chasseurs were the only free French soldiers on earth. Our country was in thrall to Bonaparte. We chose to serve with you, because we wanted what you did—his ultimate destruction.'
From this perspective, and in the light of the more recent historical example of De Gaulle's freedom fighters in operation against the Vichy French in the Second World War, we have a chance to look at the Chasseurs Britanniques with more understanding than their detractors afforded them at the time. There is no doubt that their situation was ambiguous and their task unenviable—for they were fighting their own countrymen. But in the end that task was fulfilled. Bonaparte fell. And though they did not achieve victory on their own, in their steadfast endeavour the finest of them can be said to have earned their share of glory.